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How to find an engineer to design a radiant cooling HVAC system?

brandenm | Posted in Mechanicals on
I am planning to owner-build my home in a few years. I really like the idea of an HVAC system consisting of both radiant heating and cooling combined with dedicated outside air ventilation – along the same lines of thought as Robert Bean from (and yes, I understand the increased costs that go with it). I know this is a unique approach that requires full engineering design work to be done, but after a quick search I am kind of doubting that I will find any building engineers/designers in my area that are familiar with this type of HVAC system. I would just hire Robert Bean’s firm directly, but he is quite far from me (I am currently looking to build around Kalamazoo, MI, U.S., he is in Canada), so not sure if that is even doable let alone practical for when site visits/inspections are needed.
I guess I am just wondering if anyone has any suggestions for how to find a qualified engineer to design and supervise the installation of a radiant cooling system? Or just the best way to handle this problem in general?
Right now I figure I have roughly 3 options in approaching the solution to this problem:
1) Hire Robert Bean’s firm to do everything (or another similar expert in this sort of residential HVAC system that is at a long distance from me, and assuming they are willing to travel that far). The disadvantage of this is the high travel cost that would be required to pay for, in the form of multiple flights for several site visits throughout the project. This is likely the most expensive option. Unknown if willing or practical for a roughly $500k project.
2) Hire a building engineeer local to me to design the entire building except the HVAC system, and then hire Robert Bean’s firm (or another similar expert) to design just the HVAC system. Some extra consulting would likely be needed to ensure the local engineer understands the HVAC design, but unknown how much more consulting time would be necessary. And then hopefully, the local engineer would be proficient enough to do the on-site visits and inspections for the installation of the HVAC system (and commission it).
3) Show an adventurous and willing local building engineer the free information on the website about this type of approach to HVAC, and hope they can figure out how to apply a design for that type of HVAC system to my project.
I think choosing among these 3 options sort of depends on the answer to these 2 questions:
-How difficult would it be to find an engineer that is adventurous and willing enough to pick up and learn how to design this type of HVAC system?
-How difficult would it be for an engineer that is unfamiliar with it, to pick it up and learn it?
Any thoughts?

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  1. Jon_R | | #1

    IMO, there is design and implementation. And with a good local person, design has almost no need to be onsite.

    It's also worth posting more information here.

  2. AlexPoi | | #2

    Write to him, he can probably recommend someone. Also check this question

    Especially the answers from Justin Gibbs.

  3. Andrew_Bond | | #3

    Also look at commercial building HVAC designers: chilled beams are becoming more common in office structures and operate on similar principles. Also as Jon says many aspects of design do not need to be local, I've worked in many projects having never physically met much of the team but this does demand some good project management and a strong lead.

  4. brandenm | | #4

    Interesting. I never considered simply trusting the trades to be handed such an HVAC design and be fine without any on-site supervision or inspection. If it would be tough for an engineer unfamiliar with it, I assumed it would be even tougher for the tradesmen unfamiliar with it. How difficult are we talking here for an otherwise competent HVAC installer that is unfamiliar with this type of system to be capable of installing it (and hopefully also commissioning it) for the first time without any on-site supervision or inspection from someone experienced with the system?

    I suppose it is something to explore. It sounds like I need to just contact Robert Bean's firm then when the time comes, and see what they suggest for what level of involvement they need to have to pull the project off, and how to choose the right installer.

  5. ZenHomes | | #5

    For a similar need I found engineering help in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area simply by talking with local green building advocates. Suggest you talk with the West Michigan chapter of USGBC:

  6. Jon_R | | #6

    I'd also talk to Chiltrix. Good engineers and you will need a chiller anyway. Their Psychrologix chiller controller is similar to what you need (water temp based on humidity).

    In a well insulated house in MI, the control issues are probably overblown. For example, you probably won't ever need floor temps much below 70F. That's above the dew point of what's comfortable anyway - so you could safely use a fixed water temperature all summer with no condensation (assuming other methods of controlling humidity).

    1. AlexPoi | | #7

      What about if someone forget to close a window? Do you need a relay to turn the circuit off? That's the only thing I keep wondering about. This is not a problem in a commercial building since all the windows are fixed.

  7. brandenm | | #8

    Thanks for the suggestions, I will definitely check those out.

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